Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Discussing MMOs: Warhammer Online

Warhammer Online, for those of you who don't know, is based on the enormously popular (well, among wargamers) miniatures wargame, Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Warhammer was the loose foundation for the original Warcraft games, thought the two have since diverged significantly. Much like Warcraft, it is set in a fantasy world, with elves, dwarves, orcs, and the like. Also, like WoW, there are two factions: the Armies of Order (humans, high elves, and dwarves) and the Armies of Chaos (Chaos, orcs & goblins, and dark elves). Character creation was a lot like WoW, except that each race had its own classes, and other races couldn't take them; each race's classes were based on units from the miniatures game, and generally pretty thematic, though they lost points in the minds of some by having three classes allow only male characters, while there was only one female-only class. The graphics for Warhammer Online were somewhat less cartoonish than those of WoW, which was nice, and made the differences between the two easier to see.

One of the primary draws of Warhammer Online was their PvP system, also known as Realm versus Realm; you could have armies of each faction made up of players from several servers, which meant that battles could be quite large and bloody. This was a big deal at the time, though since Warhammer Online didn't perform as well as hoped, servers dropped fairly quickly in number, meaning that the populations in RvR battles dropped as well. Because of the draw of  PvP play in Warhammer Online (or WAR), even I gave it a shot, and I found it kind of cool, especially since the holders of a battlefield in a given area actually had some effect on the rest of that area. I never got to play in the high-end RvR battlefields, but the lower-level stuff was crazy and vicious, but fun.

Another of the things that WAR used that I found pretty innovative were the idea of public quests. Public quests were, as the name implies, public; certain places in zones would have a quest, or series of quests, start every so often, and the quest could be carried out and worked on by anyone nearby, meaning that things got done much faster if others in the area helped - in fact, some, or even most, public quests were impossible without other players working together, even if they weren't grouped together. This encouraged players on the same side as you to be sociable, even if they didn't know you, because you might be the difference between finishing a public quest or failing. From what I remember, the rewars were quite nice, as well, and scaled depending on how successful you were.

WAR, much like WoW, took to heart the idea that a game world should be large and have plenty of places to explore; there were 31 zones, 10 each for High Elves/Dark Elves and Humans/Chaos and 11 for Dwarves/Orcs & goblins. 3 of those 31 were high-level contested zones, which changed depending on which side held them at the time. Chaos and the Humans each had a capital city for their respective sides, which could also be attacked and conquered. There was a great deal to see, and as I never reached the level cap, I never saw all of it; I probably saw only about half.

I think, though, WAR was crippled by the fact that it was released only a few weeks prior to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for WoW; people tried WAR for a couple weeks, and then returned to WoW, causing the game's population to drop vastly: according to Wikipedia, from 800,000 subscribers around launch down to 300,000 only 3 months later. As WAR stayed with a subscription model, instead of becoming free-to-play like many other MMOs, they continued to lose customers and money, causing them to shrink even more; as of December of 2011, they had only 3 remaining servers worldwide. It's sad, because the game had some good ideas, and the PvP was more enjoyable than that of WoW (at least for me), but I guess the market couldn't handle two big subscription-based MMOs.

Next up: Lord of the Rings Online.

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